At Presidio, we recognize that our students benefit from practical experience in the world of sustainability. One of the ways they can do this is by applying to be a part of PGS Consults, the ESG consultancy branch of our school. Current students can shadow consultants as they work with client organizations to deliver results that benefit the planet and social justice.
Today we’re talking to Demitri Fierro, Program Manager of the Consultancy Shadowing Program with PGS Consults, who shares the experience of running the program, how it benefits students who participate, and the value it holds for a sustainability consulting firm.
Many of us have seen or experienced changes within the field of education over the years. It is without surprise that a phenomenon such as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the eventual normalization of online learning. Since its inception in 2003, Presidio Graduate School’s academic model has operated at the forefront of forward-thinking education to effectively equip students with the skills and experience necessary to enter the workforce and create lasting positive change. In addition to the student benefits offered by the Experiential Learning aspects of Presidio’s curriculum, students also gain the opportunity to explore their professional curiosity within the field of sustainability consulting.
What is the Consultancy Shadowing Program?
The Consultancy Shadowing Program was piloted before I joined PGS Consults last summer. As a new student at the time, I was anxious yet excited, as I wanted to ensure I could help the program reach its maximum potential for selected students. With coaching from PGS Consults Managing Director Pamela Gordon, we recruited our Fall 2021 cohort and enhanced the program’s value to students through check-ins and a variety of consulting projects.
Participation is optional, and each semester students self-select to sign up and participate in the program. We then admit the first ten. Enrolled students take the prescribed Management Consulting Skills for Sustainability Professionals course and can attend three internal consulting meetings. Students also are guided to coached on how to submit a mock consulting proposal to one of our well-trained sustainability management consultants, who then review and provide 1:1 feedback to the program participant.
Have there been adjustments or improvements since you began overseeing the Program?
There have been improvements made since we fully launched the program in Fall 2021. For example, before we mandated participants in their respective cohort to sign a non-disclosure agreement before attending any of the three internal consulting meetings, we now only require one all-compassing document to be signed at the very start of the program. We also lifted our requirement this Spring for participants to complete the Management Consulting Skills for Sustainability Professionals course before attending any meetings. Now, students are allowed to begin attending meetings while they go through the course.
It is gratifying to see the enthusiasm in the program, not just from the students taking part but also from our PGS Consults team members. One of our expert consultants, Mari Gilmore, proposed an excellent idea of having a database that outlines all our current projects so students can gain insights on projects that interest them most before attending a meeting. The document has since become part of our workflow in managing the program. In addition, we also have onboarded participants to our PGS Consults slack channel, where they have the functionality to interact with each other, as well as receive notices on potential consulting opportunities.
It has been exciting to see how efficient the program continues to be and how we still find new ways to create value for our cohort participants. Before this semester’s end, we thought it would be great to treat the students to a luncheon during final residency. I enjoy getting to know the students more and listening to their goals and backgrounds, as it helps me anticipate how the program can fulfill what they may be looking for career-wise. Consulting is a terrific career field but not for everyone, so speaking with students while creating a closer bond helps inform the work much more!
“My expectations were exceeded with the comprehensive course Management Consulting Skills for Sustainability Professionals. It offered real-world applications of sustainability management consulting as well as perspectives from consultants on how to work with clients on various topics. Being able to create my own proposal at the end of the course was the piece de resistance.” – Stevie Roberts, second-year MBA candidate in sustainable solutions and student employee at Presidio Graduate School.
How does the Program support students who are sure they want to pursue consulting compared to those who aren’t sure the field is the direction they want to take?
As someone who oversees and has gone through the program, I can attest that it benefits all participants, regardless of their background, career interest, or skill level. When students share their ambitions and interest in the Consultancy Shadowing Program with me, they may also share they are not sure whether being a consultant is the right choice for them. I always respond that they will have much to gain from the program. When you think about it, this program is for anyone who wants to develop professionally AND personally. Aside from going through the Management Consulting Skills course and attending the three internal consulting meetings, you gain the know-how that increases business acumen and confidence.
For example, by attending internal meetings, a participant learns about team dynamics, effective communication, and brainstorming strategy. What’s more, consultants may ask participants to share their thoughts on a topic, allowing them to polish their critical thinking when applying sustainability principles. Furthermore, students finish the Management Consulting skills course with a mock consulting proposal, which they are encouraged to list on a resume and include in their portfolio, increasing their employment opportunities. On numerous occasions, we have hired students for projects after they go through the program because of the outstanding work they showcase to us through their consulting proposals. Whether they realize consulting is a good fit for them at the end of the program or recognize that it’s not, students depart the program as more effective and capable sustainability professionals.
“The Canvas curriculum gave a clear, broad understanding that could be applied to all consulting opportunities.” – Cassie Dexter Torti, first-year MPA candidate in sustainable solutions and current admissions ambassador at Presidio Graduate School.
What would you say makes the Program unique to PGS Consults and Presidio Graduate School?
I have been fortunate to take advantage of the real-world learning opportunities since day one at Presidio. As I complete my first year in the MBA program, I feel lucky to have had the professional experience I gained in a short amount of time. Whereas most graduate programs develop a practical component, they typically remain with one client partner. At Presidio, we benefit from working with three client organizations through the Experiential Learning component of our programs. Taking part in the Consultancy Shadowing Program adds even more exposure to professional development and networking opportunities with consultants.
I have yet to come across a graduate school with a consulting firm that provides opportunities to students in their respective programs. As previously mentioned, participants from the program can go on to become paid consultants on projects themselves. I love helping my peers see where their professional goals lie and allowing them to get a head start in their careers while still in school. Even now, we are expanding our program’s benefits to an even wider audience. This Fall, the school will officially offer the program’s Management Consulting Skills for Sustainability Professionals course as a one-unit elective (MBA675), which PGS Consults Managing Director Pam Gordon will be teaching. The course will be available to enrolled and non-matriculating students so long they have completed a bachelor’s degree. The emphasis on inclusivity in this course is a stellar example of how we seek to equip those with the passion and grit to become real impactful professionals. PGS Consults has a healthy blend of seasoned experts, recently graduated professionals, and current students, adding a good mix of perspectives to help clients find lasting and sustainable solutions.
“This shadowing program gives us a chance to engage with some of our learning in context, and perhaps an opportunity to help move the needle a little bit in the process,” said Taylor Sayward, second-year MBA candidate in sustainable solutions and consultant at PGS Consults.
MBA and MPA students are welcome to apply for the program, as our mission is to give all students an equal, practical, and enjoyable experience to make the most out of their time at Presidio. We are grateful to have the privilege to be part of that! Each year, more and more Presidio Graduate School alumni are now management consultants with sustainability expertise. As an institution focused on the intersection between sustainability and social justice, Presidio Graduate School stays true to its promise of supporting a new generation of thought leaders and changemakers, one student at a time.
Thank you again, Demitri, for all your time and for telling us about your journey!
If you’re interested in learning more about Presidio Graduate School and how we can help you further your career in sustainability through initiatives like PGS Consults, you can contact us today to find out more.
*This article was co-authored by Demitri Fierro and Anna Larson.